The purpose of this blog is to boast of my youthfulness, fitness and continuing openness of mind, by which you will easily be able to guess that I am getting old, a bit stiff and as set in my ways as a London bus.
Do you remember discovering a book, or an author when a teenager? The way in which that book seemed perfect; a revelation, so that you snatched at every minute you could spend reading it, on the train, at lunch time or even in the bathroom? And, as a book collector, the same excitement came when we discovered a new area of interest; because,sometimes a collection seems to grow stagnant, the stream of supply for it drying up, coming ever slower and thinner, every book we find beyond our means or beneath our consideration.
Recently an old customer surprised me: his collection of books on agriculture was the work, and pleasure, of half a life time, but it had become harder and harder to find anything for him, everything I offered him he either had, or did not want. Like most of us his collecting had tended to grow every narrower;- from a broad cheerful interest in agriculture, when I first had the pleasure of selling him books twenty odd years ago, it seemed to have boiled down to an interest in the cultivation of grass in two or three English counties before 1750. His refusal of the books I offered him had declined from effusive thanks for the offer, to a monosyllabic grunt. I could see the day coming, if we both lived long enough, when I would be looking for books about a couple of fields in North Staffordshire to satisfy him.
Then, one day, he contacted me, out of the blue. To be honest I had almost given up trying to sell anything to him, and couldn’t remember the last time I had talked to him. But he was a changed man: enthusiastic, cheerful, anxious to buy something described on the website. While he was speaking I wracked my mind for what he could want, because there was nothing, so far as I could remember, about pastoral farming or the relative advantages of Creeping Red Fescue over Brown Bent Ryegrass. I prayed it was not something that had sold in the last twenty four hours.
This was where he surprised me: you could have knocked me down with a feather, or a leaf of Rough-Stalked Meadow Grass (so useful in damp conditions). Was the second edition of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads still available? He asked.
Thankfully it was.
He was delighted. Did I have anything else in the same field? Because - in his seventies - he had rediscovered a, long latent, interest in Romantic poetry, particularly the Lakeland poet’s in the earliest editions. For some time he discoursed on variations and issue points in Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads with the same enthusiasm he had talked of the introduction of Chewings Fescue.
I cannot recommend too strongly that you let your eye wander when looking over the shelves of a bookshop, the pages of a catalogue or the virtual shelves of my website. Like falling in love or like Wordsworth’s daffodils flashing on the inward eye, something may catch your eye and bring you joy; rejuvenating you and setting you off, like a young bloodhound, on an unexplored path of book collecting.
This brings me to my boast of my own youthful freedom, which does not concern book collecting. Although, as it happens, I do have a new scent in the world of books; but I want to keep this close to my chest at the moment; firstly because I don’t want to breed rivals and secondly because you can find something else to laugh at. We youngsters are sensitive to ridicule.
A few days ago I went up to London on the usual book business; part fearless hunter, part travelling salesman and, business done, I went on to Hyde Park, where I had a lesson - on rollerblades!
A friend, who is no youngster himself, had talked so enthusiastically about the pleasure of in-line skating, that he persuaded me to give it a go. Faced with a pair of boots with the tiniest little wheels underneath and unforgiving hard ground, I was an nervous as a boy at his first disco, but Mark, from skateinstructor.com, soon put me at my ease and forty minutes later I was skating, if not elegantly, at least with an exhilarating feeling that I could do it. I recommend skating; you don’t have time to worry about whatever you normally worry about and, as you roll along, the years just drop off you. I also recommend Mark and skateinstructor.com, because he knows how to put a beginner at ease with something new to them and there’s a few booksellers and auctioneers that could learn from that.